The archipelago of Vesterålen is probably not a region that springs to mind when you’re planning a trip to the northwest coast of Norway. Overshadowed by the renowned beauty of the Lofoten Islands, Vesterålen, located just north of the popular tourist isle, remains off the radar, yet to become a well known Scandinavian hot spot.
Sitting westward from mainland Norway, Vesterålen’s beaches and clear waters challenge that of the French Riviera. Vesterålen’s topography is defined by its coastline of little inlets, lined with dramatic, craggy mountains and breathtaking fjords. The relationship with the ocean extends into the rich culture and history of the region. Although the fishing industry is not quite what it used to be, it has left its mark, and the sea plays an integral part in every aspect of daily life, from supporting the local economy and founding the food and drink culture to inspiring festivals and shaping folklore. The 30,000 or so residents enjoy a peaceful life in this under-populated landscape, living between rural fishing villages and larger more modernized towns and cities. And it is the welcoming and heartwarming nature of the people who live here that can turn a run-of-the-mill vacation into an unforgettable experience.
An outdoor playground, Vesterålen is a joy for those who want to experience the Norweigan northwest coast and for visitors who appreciate spotting rare wildlife, bagging peaks, world-class fishing, and an excellent local food culture — all without the crowds of Lofoten. Visiting Vesterålen is simply one of the best ways to experience the culture and landscape of Northern Norway. Here’s why you should explore the region and how to make the most of your trip.
How to get there
There are various routes you can take to get out to the archipelago. That said, most people go by air. For international flights to the mainland, Norweigan Air will more than likely be your best bet, especially if you are coming in from Europe. Internally, the airlines SAS, Widerøe, and Arctic Airlink run propeller planes between a wide range of northern routes, a service locals use as a means of public transport. Competition between these airlines is fierce, so shop around.
You can also explore the region by boat. The Norwegian Coastal Voyage Hurtigruten stops at 34 ports and allows guests the chance to hop on and off. An environmentally responsible cruise company, Hurtigruten offers a few different voyages around the coastline. Express ferries are a local favorite. Running year-round, they offer an efficient means of getting the most out of a visit. If you consider taking ferries, one of the best ways to enjoy the landscape and culture is by hiring a car. Vesterålen is connected to mainland Norway and the many tunnels and bridges that connect the archipelago together. Depending on your schedule, one of the suggested ways to experience all the region has to offer is to follow the National Tourist Route at Andøya, which leads to the most northern point of Vesterålen.
1. Accessible, but breathtaking, hiking
Vesterålen has over 150 marked hiking routes peppered throughout the region, offering an opportunity to explore the coast by foot. Accessible to hikers of all levels of ability, each route rewards with views of the Arctic landscape: rugged islets; soaring mountains jutting out of the sea; a wild, yet peaceful, topography.
Visit during the summer months and be awarded with the midnight sun, which affords endless daylight. From late May to mid-July, a full two months, the sun does not dip below the horizon — giving you a chance to experience all of Vesterålen’s outdoor activities 24 hours a day.
All hikes vary in terms of difficulty, length, and terrain. If you are visiting the region specifically for a walking holiday, which many visitors do, it’s advisable to purchase a hiking map that outlines the trails and the Norwegian Trekking Association’s cabins. If you prefer a mobile-friendly map, download the helpful Norgeskart friluftsliv app. Alternatively, guided hikes are also available. We recommend this especially for one of the region’s most beautiful hikes up Møysalen, which is a 10-hour round trip and has limited cell service.
2. An outdoor playground for all
Whatever kind of outdoor activity you are looking for this region is the perfect backdrop to enjoy your favorite sport. From fishing and biking to kayaking and various snow sports, there’s a huge variety of places spotted along the coast where you can hire gear and/or a guide.
It’s not surprising, given the rich fishing culture of the region, that the waters here offer a prime location for fishing trips. Deep-sea fishing can reward you with salmon, seatrout, cod, coalfish, haddock, halibut, and redfish. There are various companies running sea safaris that also rent fishing equipment and/or clothing if necessary. The programs range from a quick four-hour excursion to a tailor-made trip, so there is something suitable for both those serious about the sport and novices.
Also, during the winter, there are many lakes suitable for ice fishing — but be sure to contact a local expert for information on conditions and/or book a guide. And keep your ear to the ground for local competitions that are run throughout the wintertime.